Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver
There is no doubt this is luxury travel flawlessly organised to get the most out of your trip. Alongside the Kicking River for much of the first day, through twisting tunnels and the flatter area of Rocky Mountain Trench, we regularly spotted eagles, turkey buzzards and osprey nests on posts, deer and the odd bear. Unfortunately, despite lots of warning shouts we all still managed to miss most of the photo opportunities by the time we got to the right side of the train!
There were fewer autumn colours in this section of the Rockies, although some conifers do change colour, but there is a beautiful mix of deciduous and conifer trees, groups of birch with silvery pale green leaf tips appearing every now and then, and occasional areas of dead trees – not sure why. Timber industry still strong here, so sawn logs are stored along river edges and there is still one of the beehive-shaped waste wood burners working – a bit of a hazard burning wood in, well, the woods and ash would always cover local towns for miles around, so not very popular then.
Fascinating bends in the lines mean you get to see the front or back of the whole train at the same time and the Horseshoe Track where you can see both ends is brilliant! We also found out the Mayor of the town of Chase was driving our train – what an honour. This train had 22 carriages, 82 staff and 650 guests, but they can cater for up to 1000 guests at a time.
By the end of the first day, batteries on cameras, iPads and phones were all running low, so it helps to have several camera options with you. We did find the charging points under our seats but not until day 2. The souvenir catalogue has some beautiful special gifts to order, including more than one option of a size to make sure it fits, and your order from day 1 is ready on your seat when you arrive on day 2. We ended the day with a poetry competition for our carriage – a ‘poem’ on any topic related to the rail journey (but not too adult!) – and I was certainly surprised the next day to win the coveted ‘Order of the Salmon’ for my rendition! I shall remember the secret handshake for many years…
The Coast Hotel was our overnight stop in Kamloops, another comfortable hotel with excellent restaurant and facilities, again with our luggage in the room waiting for you when you arrive. The next day covered a varied landscape of the very dry interior, forests and mountains, and the Fraser River and Thompson River where the rich blue-green of one meets the clear brown of the other, their different temperatures and densities not mixing together for miles. Clearly, as a two-tier train, the original tunnels were blasted out again later to accommodate this.
The broken telegraph posts and cables, some overgrown inside shrubbery and some trailing in water, were part of the original communication system but now too expensive to actually remove. Messages were attached to a hoop and hung out on a pole for the driver to grab as he went past. It was upgraded later to include a hook to catch them! Now all GPS systems as well as hi-tech wires along the route with sensors to monitor any land movement or falls onto the tracks.
We were all sorry to say goodbye to the Rocky Mountaineer when we arrived in Vancouver having experienced a truly memorable journey.
Our last 3 nights are spent at the Metropolitan Hotel in Vancouver, ideally placed to explore the city and harbour. The sightseeing trip was perfect to get your bearings and to learn about its history from our amazingly-knowledgeable Titan tour rep. With mountains in the distance and water all around, the high-rise buildings don’t seem as overpowering as Toronto’s. Even though Vancouver is on the same fault-line as San Francisco, only one of the tower blocks is built as ‘earthquake proof’. Chinese make up 30% of the population, and there are very strong links with British pioneers from 18th and 19th centuries. The Steam Clock toots and blows out steam every hour, there are huge cruise ships regularly at the harbour, and as the splendid sculpture of the Olympic Flame costs around $10,000 Canadian to keep going, they refused to pay it and switched it off!
We loved Vancouver, especially Stanley Park which we walked round on our free day, and the Totem Poles from the First Nations of Canada which all have very specific meanings. We went off on our own and booked the evening Harbour Cruise dinner, enjoying a beautiful sunny evening aboard, live music, all tables allocated with a great view from a window, overall a lovely light and spacious dining area. Great buffet, table service from the bar, and wonderful views of the city lit up at night. Definitely worth $186 for two, this is always the best way to see the city.
Canada Place at the harbour is where you can book any trips independently, including the harbour cruise and Grouse Mountain. There were not enough people booked on the trip to Grouse Mountain from our tour group so we got a free-shuttle token at the kiosk in Canada Place, and bought the tickets at the base point for the gondola ride and choice of attractions – $2 off for the Alpine Senior plus a further $2 off with a voucher the hotel concierge gave us.
We were surprised it was so warm up there on a beautiful sunny September day, but even if it is cooler when the sun disappears behind a cloud, you still need sunscreen and a hat or scarf. The black bears were very sleepy just dozing in the sunshine, and the bird display was excellent – a juvenile bald eagle so his head not completely white yet, a huge vulture hopping rather than flying, a pretty fluffy owl and a very fast peregrine. You are very close to them so some fantastic photo opportunities and a running commentary by the handlers.
Don’t miss the lumberjack display, all set up like an old-fashioned film set with ‘friendly’ rivalry between two frighteningly skilful young men. It is a great day out and a must-see if you have the time. Vancouver would certainly be on our wish-list to return to, especially as we chose the free day rather than optional excursion to Vancouver Island so need to remedy this in the future.
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